MINNEAPOLIS, October 14, 2014 — While most political pundits are focused on the battle for the United States Senate, the 2014 elections also feature plenty of gubernatorial races. Voter disgust with Washington can bring down unpopular governors, but capable chief executives can buck national trends just as easily.
2014 is shaping up to be a year where plenty of incumbents in both parties could go down in flames. As for the winners, many of them will immediately begin taking steps toward opening presidential exploratory committees.
Despite the tough times and pessimistic national mood in general, several governors in both parties will coast to reelection.
MONEY IN THE BANK: INCUMBENT DEMOCRATS
NEW YORK — Andrew Cuomo is not going anywhere. Even a corruption scandal will not taint him. His state is solid blue.
CALIFORNIA — Jerry Brown will eventually lead the Golden State off of a cliff and into bankruptcy, but most voters will not care. Trees, bunny rabbits and gay marriages matter more than businesses fleeing the state. The left owns the state. Brown will coast to reelection.
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VERMONT — Outside of Cuba and Russia, it is hard to find places further to the left than Vermont. Socialists own it and conservatives are content to flee to neighboring states. Peter Shumlin is entrenched.
OREGON — John Kitzhaber is a liberal running a liberal state. His fiancee got caught up in a scandal, which should matter to nobody. He is safe as can be.
MONEY IN THE BANK: INCUMBENT REPUBLICANS
ALABAMA — Robert Bentley is a solid Republican in a solidly Republican state in a solidly Republican year.
NEVADA — Brian Sandoval has the best of all possible worlds. He is a likable and respected Hispanic Republican in a state with many Hispanics in a Republican year. He is expected to romp to reelection.
SOUTH DAKOTA — Dennis Daugaard could lose if the ballots somehow leave his name off of them. Barring Armageddon, he will remain in charge for four more years.
WYOMING — Wyoming is very conservative, and Matt Mead is as safe as it gets.
IDAHO — Butch Otter did face some primary opposition, but the Idaho GOP is now firmly united. Revered conservative Congressman Raul Labrador endorsed the more moderate Otter, who should have a cakewalk reelection.
OKLAHOMA — Mary Fallin is smart, capable, liked, respected, and conservative in a conservative state, which works quite well when the national mood swings to the right.
ALASKA — Unlike Sarah Palin, Sean Parnell maintains a low profile. Parnell is an inoffensive, non-controversial guy in a Republican state in a Republican year. With most attention on Alaska’s Senate race, Parnell will stay above the fray and win election.
GEORGIA — Nathan Deal dispatched primary opponents and should be a safe enough bet for reelection. Conservatives have never warmed to him, which only helps him with moderate Democrats.
MONEY IN THE BANK: OPEN SEATS—DEMOCRATS
RHODE ISLAND — Rhode Island actually has a Republican Party, but it is fractured and showing about as much excitement as a test pattern. The left will stay on cruise control here.
MARYLAND — Governor Martin O’Malley is running a quixotic presidential campaign under the illusion that Democrats will support a white male against Hillary, even if he is liberal. Meanwhile, his successor will coast because Maryland has been flooded with federal dollars. They like President Obama and his goodies.
HAWAII — A fascinating primary drama took place when Democrat Governor Abercrombie defied the late Senator Daniel Inuoye’s dying wish that his successor be Colleen Hanabusa. Abercrombe nominated Schatz. Ironically, while Schatz survived his primary against Hanabusa, Abercrombie himself went down. Republicans are talking up Duke Aiona, who lost badly in his last race. Even former Governor Linda Lingle, considered the only electable Republican in Hawaii, was trounced in her Senate run. Until proven otherwise, Democrats own Hawaii.
MONEY IN THE BANK: OPEN SEATS—REPUBLICANS
TEXAS — Republicans nominated Attorney General Greg Abbott, regarded as one of the most decent human beings to ever seek higher office. His Democrat counterpart Wendy Davis is attempting to become one of most terrible people to ever run for any office. A former Republican, Davis divorced her husband and abandoned her children after he paid for her law school. She just ran an ad attacking Abbott’s paraplegic status. The issue now is not how badly Abbott trounces Davis, but how much collateral damage she does to Texas Democrats everywhere. Even if Texas were not a Republican state in a Republican year, she would still be political ebola.
NEBRASKA — Outgoing Governor Dave Heinemen was well-liked and non-controversial. In this Republican state in this Republican climate, that is more than enough for his successor Pete Ricketts to glide into office.
COMPETITIVE OPEN SEATS: DEMOCRATS
Massachusetts — This was supposed to be the safest race in the union for Democrats, who somehow nominated the only liberal Democrat even capable of losing in this state. Martha Coakley is uninspiring, and the overwhelmingly liberal state has elected moderate Republican governors. Charlie Baker fits that mold. Even in a Republican climate, Baker still has an uphill climb, giving the edge to Coakley by default.
Arkansas — The Senate race is where all the attention is, allowing the governor to float above the fray. While Republicans have made plenty of inroads here, conservative Democrats can survive even with a Republican wave expected. However, Republican Asa Hutchison has a presence in the state, and name recognition matters. Hutchison should beat Democrat Mike Ross in a squeaker.
COMPETITIVE OPEN SEATS: REPUBLICANS
ARIZONA — Democrats desperately want this seat to rebuke the GOP for its aggressive stand against illegal immigration. The problem is that most Arizona voters, unlike the national media and coastal elites, actually want the border enforced. Outgoing GOP Governor Jan Brewer was a lightning rod, but she won. Her successor Doug Ducey will as well especially since he is facing a non-descript bureaucrat from the state Board of Regents.
This year shows plenty of incumbents in varying degrees of trouble. Unlike the Senate battles, the Republicans have more governorships to lose because they have more to defend. Despite this, expect very few states to flip.
DEMOCRATS ON DEFENSE
ILLINOIS — Democrats own the state, but incumbent Pat Quinn is detested and the state is practically bankrupt. Republicans have a strong challenger, but even in a Republican year it may be too much to ask the people who worship Barack Obama to change. It will be ugly, but Quinn will survive. He will most likely get plenty of votes from dead people, felons and illegal aliens from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago.
COLORADO — John Hickenlooper is toast for allowing former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to cajole him into pushing gun control. Conservatives have pushed back hard, ousting two anti-gun Democrats in recall elections. Incumbent Hickenlooper is dragging down the entire Democratic ticket. Democrats turned Colorado from red to blue on other issues, but destroyed themselves the moment they came for the gun owners. Hickenlooper is gone. Congressman Bob Beauprez will win.
CONNECTICUT — Incumbent Dan Malloy is one of the least like governors in the country in a state with some of the highest taxes. Malloy has also been caught in a corruption scandal, which seems to happen to many Connecticut governors. Connecticut is liberal, but a national GOP wave and a strong challenger should be enough to take Malloy down in a close fight with Thomas Foley.
REPUBLICANS ON DEFENSE
SOUTH CAROLINA — Incumbent Nikki Haley is not a slam dunk, but she is relatively safe in conservative South Carolina. Overall voters like the job she has done. In this climate, she should be fine.
IOWA — Incumbent Terry Branstadt is a comfortable pair of shoes for Iowa voters. He stays out of trouble and avoids crazy talk. A normal Midwesterner should be safe among his fellow normal Midwesterners. The Iowa Senate race has all the action, and the excitement seems to be on the Republican side. That could provide reverse coattails for Branstadt, who does not thrill or anger people.
TENNESSEE — If not for his trucking company being caught up in malfeasance, incumbent Bill Haslam would be a lock for reelection. Tennessee is still reliably Republican, and in this climate that should be enough. Haslam appears to have weathered the storm and should win again.
NEW MEXICO — Incumbent Susanna Martinez is a very well-liked Hispanic Republican woman in a state with many Hispanics. The only reason she is not cruising as easily as her Nevada counterpart is because her state leans more Democrat. Nevertheless, in a Republican year the well-liked, competent, telegenic Martinez should win without too much of a struggle.
OHIO — John Kasich is the luckiest governor in America. This incumbent took on the unions, enraging the left. Yet unlike his fellow Midwestern governors, Kasich had the fortune of going up against a Democrat who self-destructed under the weight of a sex scandal that could have a toxic effect on the entire Ohio Democrat party. Kasich is far from exciting as it gets, but in Ohio, a nuts and bolts grinder who gets the job done gets reelected.
MICHIGAN — Rick Snyder is another incumbent Midwestern governor who put his head down and went to work without much fanfare. His handling of the Detroit bankruptcy showed him to be a competent and effective manager. He managed to handle the crisis in a way that did not put the left in a state of rage like in neighboring states. By tackling the toughest crises while remaining inoffensive, this incumbent became that rare breed of politician who is seen as trusted. This gets him reelected.
WISCONSIN — The unions and the rest of the leftists are still out for blood against incumbent Walker. This will be his third election in four years for the same job, and he will beat the left again. He went big and bold, and his bets paid off. He took on the unions, refused to back down, and became a national hero to conservatives despite his relatively low-key style. In a Republican year, all the leftist outrage in the world will not be able to alter the reality that his term has been successful. Wisconsin is open for business, and the voters know it.
KANSAS — Under normal conditions, especially in a national GOP climate, incumbent Brownback should be coasting to a landslide win in this reliably red state. Unfortunately, tough economic times have led Kansas Republicans to be among the most vulnerable red state Republicans in the country. A much tougher than expected Senate race is not helping matters. The national GOP wave should be enough to save Brownback, but it will be a dogfight. He will eke out a win.
MAINE — Incumbent Paul LePage is a bombastic firebrand, a tea party guy and proud of it. He won in 2010 with only 37 percent of the vote in a state known for its strong independent streak. Democrats are making him a top target to be replaced, but his combativeness, while not always helpful when governing, is an asset on the campaign trail. It will be another brutal three-way race, but LePage may just confound the experts again. It will be a nail-biter, but the national mood should give him the slight edge to win reelection.
FLORIDA — Charlie Crist was well-liked when he was a Republican Governor riding Jeb Bush’s coattails. Then he became an independent and is now a Democrat. He is as flashy as incumbent Rock Scott is stoic. This is truly an election about style over substance. Scott has been very successful governor, but he is just not good at bragging about his accomplishment. He prefers letting his deeds do the talking. This could be the battle of the hare Crist against the tortoise Scott. A national GOP wave should be enough to allow Scott to grind out another hard-fought victory. Crist wants to be seen as bipartisan, but enough people may conclude that he simply stands for nothing and lacks any core belief beyond getting elected.
PENNSYLVANIA — Tom Corbett is the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country. His major mistake was being too timid. Unlike his counterparts in Wisconsin, Ohio and to a lesser extent Michigan, he refused to fully go after the unions. Combine that with his quiet demeanor like his Florida counterpart, and this leads to a Governor who just does not inspire. He is another guy who represents substance over style, but a lack of boldness will do him in. He is too far behind to come back in a state that Republicans frequently have trouble winning in. Corbett is probably going down to defeat.
CONCLUSION: 2014 was supposed to be the year the Democrats took back the gains Republicans made in 2010. A national GOP wave in the sixth year of an unpopular president will lead to a rude awakening for Democrats. They will pick up one GOP governorship in Pennsylvania while losing the governorships in Colorado and Connecticut. Democrats will also lose the open seat in Arkansas. Despite already holding a 29-21 advantage, the Republicans will have a net gain of two to end up with Republican governors in 31 states to only 19 for the Democrats.